Is It Spying or Is It Parenting?

A look at the browsing history in Safari

Recently I read Tracy Grant’s article, The Case for Spying on Your Kids, in the October 5, 2011 Washington Post, and it’s well worth reading. Grant believes that parents should keep close track of their children’s online activities. After I finished the article I decided it’s unfortunate that so many people equate keeping an eye on a child’s digital activities with spying. It’s not spying.

From my perspective, it’s just fine for parents to closely supervise the digital activities of kids, just like parents supervise non-digital endeavors. Understanding what’s going on, setting limits, teaching children to follow website rules, and defining expectations — as children encounter more and smaller personal computers and digital gadgets — are important responsibilities. Knowing what’s going on is a part of parenting.

Yet learning about what’s going on takes time, a scarce resource for many adults, and the situation gets even more complicated because the digital skills of many children outpace their parents.

Grant describes her conversation with Steven Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) (this organization has a website that parents may want to explore), and she also mentions a new monitoring service, SafetyWeb

In Grant’s article Balkam points out, “The history button on a computer is a very important tool for parents.”

The digital world offers many opportunities to help children learn, collaborate, and grow as digital citizens, and we want our children to become literate and savvy consumers of online resources. Strong digital parenting — even when a parent is in awe of a child’s online prowess — is one of the ways to ensure that children grow into confident, respectful, and competent learners.

I recommend reading the book Born Digital, by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. The authors, from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, focus on the changing nature of growing up in the digital world.

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